‘Nameless Arrays of Existence’: Finance, Deterritorialization, and Surplus Population in Don DeLillo’s Players

Thomas William Lynn Travers
Thomas Travers
  Birkbeck, University of London


Don DeLillo’s 1977 novel Players pivots on an anarchist plot to blow up an abstraction: ‘the idea of worldwide money’. The conspiracy’s objective is to smuggle explosives onto the trading floor of the NYSE, to strike capital before it becomes ‘totally electric’ and abandons material sites of production altogether. Typically read as the exhaustion of class politics and the assimilation of resistance into spectacle, Players in fact offers a stunning mediation of financial ‘deterritorialization’. Confronted with economic slowdown in the Seventies, US capital turned to deterritorialization, as a strategy capable of transforming limits to accumulation into transcendable barriers, through a combination of increased stock market speculation and deindustrialization. Although Players registers the flight into abstraction, this paper will concentrate on the spectres of the proletariat who haunt the novel, using DeLillo’s figuration of unemployment as a lever into contemporary Marxist debates about finance and literary form. The unemployed can be read here as representing the gap in the elliptical or abridged M-M1 formula of finance capital. Landscapes of dispossession thus become allegorical sites where the obliterated content of labour can be recovered and the ineradicable structural contradictions of capital made to flicker into visibility. At the same time, these readings fail to confront an older criticism that DeLillo’s novel aestheticizes immiseration and transposes the surplus population into a religious romance of eternal suffering. History is evacuated, as the experiential phenomena of post-default New York—social struggles over housing and access to employment—are divorced from any epistemological framework. The paper will argue that this contradiction between homelessness as the recovery of repressed material content and as aestheticized effacement can be resolved through reference to Fredric Jameson’s work on the lateral movements of conspiracy. Jameson’s position, however, needs a slight twist, whereby the immiserated unproductive geographies of finance are rewritten as autonomous from the providential, diachronic logic of conspiracy. Outside of narrative progress, DeLillo’s scenic description bears the imprint of history precisely because of its absence from a tortuous eternal present. Ahistorical landscapes, the paper will conclude, dramatize the situation of classes disbarred from the deterritorialized financial annexation of the future.

Aesthetics - Surplus Population - Geographies of Finance - The Novel - Finance Capital